Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Our Christmas {2013}

This Christmas was always going to be an interesting one; discovering that we had to move house at the beginning of December, and arranging the move for the first week in January, meant that our focus was less on present buying and more on packing boxes.  However, we decided that we'd like to make the time as family-orientated as possible so planned a few nice things for the kids to do in the run up to Christmas Day.

Of course, things rarely go to plan in this household and between discovering that there were no stabilisers on earth to fit Eli's bike, having a flat tyre and Eli removing all the keys from my laptop on Christmas Eve...my stress levels were through the roof by the time we finally entered into the Christmas spirit!

That said, it did all come together in the end.

We spent Christmas Eve at Twinlakes Theme Park experiencing the Winter Wonderland they had set up and visiting Santa in his grotto.  Unfortunately (because that was the way my luck was going that day) I managed to delete all but a handful of the 100+ photos I took, so you will have to take my word that it was well worth a visit.  It was by far one of the best Grotto's I have ever been to.  From the thought that had gone into the smallest details, right through to the fact that the staff dressed as Elves were genuinely friendly and went out of their way to engage with the kids, we really enjoyed ourselves.

Meg was also in her element with it being a theme park.  It was a shame that the weather was so bitterly cold otherwise we would have spent more time having a look round the park itself.  As it was, we spent most of our time in the grotto area trying to keep warm.  She did get to have her very first attempt at Ice Skating however.  It was an interesting experience and I'm quite amazed that I didn't take a tumble trying to keep her upright!

Whilst we were out, the Kindness Elves had returned to Santa in the North Pole but had thoughtfully left us a Christmas Eve box full of some goodies.  These included new pyjamas for us all, three books, reindeer food, a magic key to leave out for Santa because we don't have a chimney and 'Arthur Christmas' for us to watch that night.  It was lovely to put on our new snuggly PJ's and cuddle up watching the film.  It was, in fact, one of the only films Meg has ever sat through without protest!

After the film had finished we went outside and sprinkled our reindeer food and left out some treats for Santa and Rudolph before putting the kids to bed.  Amazingly, they were both asleep by 7.30pm - definitely something I hadn't expected!

On Christmas Day itself we had a very quiet affair.  We opened stockings first thing and then got dressed and had a mini cooked breakfast before opening the presents under the tree.  I was quite thankful that we didn't have the mass of large unsightly plastic toys we have had in previous years, I just don't know where we would store them and the thought of packing them up would have defeated me!

Alfie wasn't missed out either, with Santa brining him a delicious hide cracker full of treats.

My Other Half made a delicious Christmas dinner, and after that we played board games.  We had tried as much as possible to make the focus on spending time together as a family and even Meg commented that it was really fun to just play together without any other distraction.  I really appreciated that now Meg and Eli are older we can do things like this.  It makes me look forward to the years to come.

Later on in the week we drove up to see my Other Half's family in Liverpool and to go to the Empire to see Peter Pan, which again, I was surprised Meg sat through without too much drama.  It might have something to do with the rather fetching flashing tiara her Nana bought!

I am a big fan of Christmas (as if you didn't know) and I love that we get to start little traditions and just concentrate on having a nice time together.  We definitely achieved that this year despite the handful of hiccups.

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas too x

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Review: Wendy & Peter Pan

Last week, the Other Half and I were lucky enough to be asked to come and view the RSC show of Wendy and Peter Pan in Stratford Upon Avon.

In typical 'us' fashion, we set off for the show with only an hour to complete a journey which was an hour and fifteen minutes long, racing along praying for no traffic.  We arrived in time, rushed to collect our tickets and got ourselves seated, ready to enjoy!

As we were sitting, we looked around and noticed that the demographic of the audience was a lot older than I would have expected.  I whispered to my Other Half, 'I hope it's not all arty and weird.  I thought there would be children here.'  Suffice to say, we were soon turfed out of our seats as it was revealed that we were in fact in the wrong theatre.  Apparently what the staff don't do when they show you to your seat is to read the name of the show you are meant to be seeing!

Unfortunately this meant that we missed the first ten minutes of the actual stage show by the time we had found where we were meant to be.  Huge thanks has to go to the usher who took us in, even though it wasn't a 'late entry point' as he didn't want us to miss more than we already had!

However, once we were finally in the right place and able to watch we found this adaptation of the J M Barrie classic to be very enjoyable.  It has been reworked by Ella Hickson with some new characters and a slight twist in the storyline.  Nothing major though, it is still essentially the same well loved tale.

I was particularly impressed with how the flying was presented on the stage.  On the way over we had discussed how they would 'fly', whether they even would.  We know of some versions where they have eliminated that aspect entirely and felt that it would cause the show to miss a vital element.  However, there is plenty of flying to go around and I thought it was very cleverly incorporated in.

There were lots of children in the audience, ranging from around 3 years upwards although the age recommendation is 7+ years.  I would agree with this as a child did become upset when the pirates first came onto the stage and some of what they talk about (slitting throats for example) is a bit gruesome and not something I would want to expose my 4 year old to!  The crocodile is also a bit strange, not something I imagine younger children would understand.

However, there was also a lot of the magic of the original storyline, in particular the part where Tink sacrifices herself to save Peter and he has to revive her by clapping and saying 'I believe in fairies'...the whole audience took part and there was one little girl close to use who was very enthusiastically believing in fairies which was lovely (and loud!)

The thing I enjoyed most about the show was that it was very amusing.  There were lots of quips and one liners which made it very relaxed and it felt like the actors on stage were engaging with the audience.  Tinkerbell was by far my favourite although I will leave out why, so that it's a surprise for anyone thinking about going.

Overall, it was a really great evening.  I thought the staging was very impressive, not what I had been expecting and although it has been rewritten in parts it was very recognisable as the story of Peter Pan, perhaps closer to the books than the Disney version.  There are definitely some interesting new parts though, such as the marital difficulties between Mr & Mrs Darling...I think perhaps because we missed the start we didn't fully understand the relevance of this particular storyline...I struggled to see why it had been added although I didn't think it took anything away.  It was just slightly bemusing.

If you have older children this would be a lovely family evening out; even as just adults I think it would be great.  Myself and my Other Half both had a fantastic childless evening and thought it was definitely worth it!!

Wendy and Peter Pan is showing at the RSC in Stratford upon Avon until the 2 March 2014.  You can read more about the show and book tickets here.

Disclaimer: I was provided with two tickets to see Wendy & Peter Pan for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.

One Boy & His Bear...

I'm not sure that when Winnie the Pooh woke up on a mild December morning, he had any idea what lay in store.  I'm not sure that when he was plucked from his comfy Parisian home in 1999 he really had any idea either!!

So 14 years later, on said morning, Winnie was lulled into a fall sense of security about how his day was going to pan out being first treated to some delicious breakfast alongside some of his pals.

Following some top notch serving from the boy, he unfortunately had to be rescued from the clutches of the dog who had decided he would quite like some breakfast in the form of a yellow bear and relieved at the saving of his precious bear, the boy declared it was time we all went on an adventure.

First stop was the trains.  Unfortunately there weren't any in the station so one boy and his bear left feeling somewhat deflated.

Things picked up again when the playground was reached.  Winnie had fun initially trying out the swing but things soon turned sour when the boy decreed that the bear would much prefer to hang by his t-shirt, his head coming perilously close to the floor as the swing swung. 

Next up was the spinning chair of torture, otherwise known as one of the boy's favourite past times.  Even the boy felt that it was time to stop as poor Winnie was probably getting much too dizzy.

Finally, the slide was attempted with both the boy and the bear needing a helping hand as previous rain had meant it was quite a bit less, slidey than usual.

Both bear and boy were feeling somewhat tired after their traverse around the playground but it was decided that we couldn't leave just yet.  Not until we had played the boy's current favourite....superheroes.  This involved poor Winnie being abandoned on various bits of playground equipment whilst the boy ran around shouting and asking if anyone needed rescuing.  Once it was determined that the bear was in trouble, the boy then rescued him...because he is a super amazing super brave superhero.  Natch.

After four rounds of this, the rain started to fall and it was decided that bear and boy would both benefit from returning home to cuddle up on the sofa and enjoy some delicious hot chocolate.

Overall, today was a good day for one boy and his bear :)

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

First Nativity

Yesterday saw Meg take part in her very first nativity, as Innkeeper number three.  I had been slightly worried prior to seeing the nativity as the last assembly we attended she refused to sing or join in with the actions for the songs declaring that they were 'silly'.  

As the innkeeper who did, in fact, have enough room, she had two key lines to deliver and I just wasn't convinced that she would say them when the time came.

Turning up 40 minutes before the start time was enough to score us front row seats for the show.  Last time I made the mistake of only being 15 minutes early and had to sit right at the back.  I wasn't making the same mistake twice!!

It was lovely seeing all the EYFS children dressed up and enjoying themselves.  There were the typical hilarious moments with children waving at their parents, and one little boy who spent the whole time mesmerised by the sparkly King's hat on the head of the child sitting next to him.  Not to mention the little boy who whispered his lines first before bellowing them out to everyone else!

I was amazed when one of the teachers said they had learned the whole play in just three weeks.  I'm sure there were around six or seven songs, with accompanying actions as well as the individual lines of each child.  I was very impressed!!

I was also incredibly proud of Meg who said her lines, albeit a little bit quietly but still, she said them!!  I was weirdly nervous for her, it can't be easy getting up on stage and looking out into a sea of grown up faces.  Even if most of them had big grins plastered across them.

It was her first time standing up on the stage too, and she isn't generally a fan of trying out new experiences.

On stage
Well done Meg, and well done to each of the other children as well.  It was a really fantastic nativity and I am one chuffed mama :)

Next year...Mary!

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Moving House and Packing Up...

A couple of weeks ago we were given notice by our landlady that she plans to sell the property we are currently living in, and that we had until the end of January to find somewhere new to live.

This is certainly not the kind of news you want just before Christmas!

Since that point we've been on a house hunting mission as well as assessing how things stand in our house currently.  It's fair to say that we have a lot of stuff.  Remarkable actually as we have somehow managed to fill every single available space within the house!

Moving is about so much more than just packing up your stuff and depositing it somewhere else.  There's sorting out what is left behind as well, the cleaning and the disposing of items you no longer need.  This week I've been looking at carpet washers so that we can give the house a thorough cleansing before we move on.  I'm not sure that other tenants would go to such lengths but I always think how I would hate moving into a dirty house and I don't want to leave it that way for somebody else!

I find it hard to let go of the things we have accumulated over the years, I wouldn't go as far as to say I am a hoarder but I certainly keep hold of things which have special memories for me.  

The likelihood of us finding a similar sized house though is quite remote so we are definitely going to need to downsize.  Where do you begin with a task like that?

I could list on my hand the number of things that some people would consider unnecessary but I would never ever want to part with, like my books for example.  We have moved house about six times since we've been married and my dad has faithfully helped us each time.  He always comments on how my book collection has grown since the last time we moved and whether I might consider getting rid of some of them...the answer is always a resounding NO!  One day I will get my dream house with it's very own library (and moving ladders a la Beauty and the Beast) and I will need the books to fill it!

I suppose moving house does offer the opportunity to have a good cleansing of items that you no longer need, things which get put away and forgotten about until you are forced to contend with the bulging cupboard of mess as you start to box things up.  I have this feeling we are going to make some interesting discoveries as we begin to pack.

Speaking of which, we are meant to be moving house in about 4 weeks and I have yet to sort a single item out...I really should get on that!

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Can Freelance Work & Childcare Mix?

As regular readers will know, in September this year I set up my own freelance business 'Jess McGlynn Writes...' and left my existing job as an Office Manager.  It was a scary time and many people thought I was bonkers when I told them that I had also pulled Eli out of nursery and planned to fit my writing work around looking after him.  Research on the internet also confirmed that people thought the two just couldn't work together.  

However, I would like to be one of the few who raises their hand and says actually, it can.  It certainly isn't easy and it presents its own challenges but I am living testament to the fact that you can run a freelance business and take care of your children.

I don't imagine this works for all businesses.  Depending on the type of work you are carrying out, it might not be safe for you to suddenly have to abandon your post mid-task to rescue Lightning McQueen from the clutches of the dog or race upstairs to catch the errant toddler who has decided that he wants to fill a bucket with water and wash his brown bear.

However, if you are considering starting to take on some freelance work and worrying about having to juggle caring for children as well then here are my top (tried and very much tested!) tips:

1, Have a Schedule
I can't stress this enough.  I tried to work on an adhoc basis to begin with and it was nothing short of a nightmare.  Now I work for an hour in the morning and then a couple of hours in the afternoon.  I don't work on a Thursday as this is my whole day to spend with Eli.  

When I am working, I set something up to occupy Eli such as an invitation to play or lay out his cars.  I suppose I am quite lucky that he is able to occupy himself for a short period of time but I sit close to him so I am on hand if he needs it.

I recently took on a new client who requires work from me every day so I have built time into my Sunday evening to write that week's posts ahead of time.  Small things that have made a huge difference!

You also have to remember that freelance work is about a lot more than just sitting back and waiting for the clients to roll in.  In between writing and looking after Eli I have to browse websites and chase work.  I have to carry out research on whatever topic I'm covering and also raise and chase invoices.  The small stuff takes up a lot more time than you might think so having a schedule really helps with that.

2. Be Realistic
I cut my ties with a client recently as after agreeing a set number of articles per week they were overloading me with more and more and not expecting to pay much for it.  Whilst it was flattering to begin with and I was writing with £ signs in my eyes, I soon felt overwhelmed.  I had to be realistic about how much I could take on without completely abandoning Eli to the TV every day!  

3. Be Honest
One of my regular clients is aware of my situation and quite happy to work with me on it.  I made no secret of the fact that I was predominantly going to be a SAHM who wanted a bit of writing work on the side and she always gives me deadlines with a one or two day cushion so that if something goes wrong (such as your child throwing up all over the laptop!) I don't have to worry about missing a deadline.

I have found that people are very accepting of delays and the like if you clearly explain what has happened and why.  It certainly hasn't lost me any work yet.

4. Create A Space
Initially I was working on my lap in whatever space I could find but it was soon taking all of my allotted time just to set up and get going.  Now I have a dedicated working space where I can leave all my info and papers and return to it when I have chance.  Having a specific place also means you can concentrate.  I tend to use this space in the evening when my Other Half is home; it's amazing how much more I can achieve when I don't have to be listening out for trouble every few minutes!

5. Give It A Go
This is the biggest tip I can offer.  I have wanted to work for myself for years and have just never felt brave enough.  Now, I wonder why I waited so long.  There's no harm in trying something and discovering that maybe it isn't for you.  After all, you might find out that it is perfect for you, which to me is worth the initial risk.

Do you have any tips to offer?

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Review: The Croods

We love family movie nights (once we have persuaded Meg that the film isn't going to be scary!) and were really pleased when we were recently sent The Croods to watch.  Myself and my Other Half had been on a date night to see it at the cinema so we knew the kids were going to enjoy it.

In case you don't know what the film is about:

From DreamWorks Animations's THE CROODS is the blockbuster hit that earned over £26 million at the UK box office!  Written and directed by Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch) and Kirk DeMicco (Space Chimps) it's been one of the must-see animated films of the year.

When their cave is destroyed, the Croods family set out to explore a spectacular landscape filled with fantastic creatures, strange surprises...and a whole new world of adventure!  Led by an outstanding voice cast featuring Oscar®-winner Nicholas Cage, Golden Globe®-nominee Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds and Oscar®-nominee Catherine Keener, THE CROODS is the perfect Christmas gift for 2013!

We all really enjoyed watching the film together as a family.  Eli absolutely loved the character Belt and copied each sound and noise he made, giggling like crazy every time he came on.  His 'dun-dun-dah' has been imitated for many days since we saw it!

Meg, perhaps predictably, thought Eep (Emma Stone) was the best and has even asked for a tiger print dress for Christmas although I'm not sure Santa will get that request *ahem*

My favourite character is Guy.  I think the scene where the family are eating/destroying the bird and he is perched in a corner daintily nibbling on his portion and delicately wiping his mouth with a leaf is brilliant.  I also think he gets some of the best one-liners in the film although that might be my love of Ryan Reynolds coming through a little bit there....!

Meg and Eli found the scene where Grug (Nicholas Cage) is pretending to be a cool thinker like Guy and coming up with all the crazy ideas very funny too although there are so many amusing moments in the film, I could mention a good few more which had us all laughing.  I wouldn't want to spoil the story for anyone who has yet to see it though!

I enjoyed the fact that it is different from your run of the mill animated films, it certainly got Meg asking about cave people and when they existed etc, although I wasn't looking for an educational point of view we were given one anyway.  

There is a really great mix of laugh out loud moments as well as action scenes and a couple of  moments which bring a tear to the eye...or maybe that was just me...

It is definitely a great one for the family and if you are looking for a stocking filler for Christmas this year then I would definitely recommend it!

The Croods is out on Monday 9 December on DVD and Blu-ray.

Disclaimer: We were sent a copy of The Croods for the purposes of this review.  All thoughts and opinions are our own.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Kindness Elves: Day 4

Today Glæde, Fred and Elska brought an invitation to play for Meg and Eli.  I have wanted to do an 'invitation to play' for a very long time but have never really had the time to set it up beforehand.  Our crafts tend to be a bit of a last minute thing with me cutting out/sticking on/setting up the relevant pieces as the kids are making them.

I decided to go with something simple and opted for a snowman craft.  I prepared all the pieces beforehand, laid them out and then let the kids discover them by themselves and get on with it.

I have to say I was very impressed with how they got on.  Eli only needed help for the location of the scarf (having initially placed it across the snowman's face which upset Meg greatly) but with a little bit of direction from Meg showing him which bit was what, he got on very well.  I was really proud of how Meg took the lead and helped him out, I didn't ask her to, she just did it which was lovely to see.  The Elves definitely took note of it too!

I expected Meg to do okay and she did, declaring it one of the best things she had ever made.  I imagine this is a slight dig at me and the hovering that tends to happen when they are usually let loose with glue sticks and the like!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Kindness Elves: Days 2 & 3

Day Two
This morning the Elves had positioned themselves in our Christmas  decorations - it took a while for the kids to spot them actually!  

The 'theme' if you like of the next few days is going to be focussing on sharing.  So, today, the Elves suggested that Meg could share something from her lunch box with one of her friends at school.  Unfortunately the note writer *ahem* was unaware that the number one golden rule at school dinner time is no sharing your food.  A good job then that Meg wasn't actually at school yesterday and was able to share her treat with Eli instead!

Day Three
Today the Elves were off on a little visit in the morning but had returned home by the afternoon with a nice idea for a treat because Meg and Eli were so good at sharing yesterday.

Does Your 4 Year Old Believe?

On Saturday 30 November I was beyond excited setting up the welcome visit from our Kindness Elves.  I had prepared a letter from Santa explaining why they were there and couldn't wait until morning when Meg and Eli made their discovery.

For a four and a half year old Meg really can be wise beyond her years.  Apart from the fact I am convinced she can hear in her sleep, thereby giving her the uncanny ability to know things she should not, she also has this way of asking questions designed to make you trip up.  She launches them and then studies you as you respond, just waiting to point out if you've made an adjustment from the last time you answered said question.  Heaven forbid you should hesitate and give time to thinking your response through, she'd be on that like a vulture.  She's a little bit evil that way.

So, on Sunday, the Elves were discovered and much exclamations were made over how they had got there and how exciting it was.  About ten minutes after their initial welcoming, Meg came up to me and said, 'how did the Elves really get here?'  'Santa brought them of course' I responded smoothly.  'Santa?  Brought them here?'  I should have noticed at this point the way she had slowed her speech down, the slight narrowing of her eyes as she watched my face.  Unfortunately despite many years in her presence, I was caught up in the Christmas magic and answered confidently, 'yes.  THE Santa brought them here.'


'I know they aren't real Mum, Santa isn't real.'

At this moment, I was like a deer caught in the headlights.  My four year old had just dropped the truth bomb that she didn't believe Santa was real.   I was flabbergasted, flummoxed and fascinated all at the same time.  What four year old, who to the best of my knowledge has never been informed by anybody that Santa does not exist and has, in fact, been exposed to many magical Christmas occurrings, doesn't believe in Santa Claus?

Fighting the urge to call in my Other Half for reinforcement, I did the only thing I could think of and said, 'Well I believe in Santa.'

Meg then adopted the tone of voice she reserves only for when her dad and I are not fully understanding what she is trying to explain to us, you may know the tone, it's the kind that leaves you feeling about half an inch tall, 'I know you believe in Santa, Mum.  But I do not.'

As I watched my festive spirit whizz around the room like a popped balloon, I fought the urge to call her the Grinch reborn and instead patted her on the head and walked out of the room.

Later on we were at my parents house and I decided to have a last ditch attempt at forcing encouraging her to believe in the magic of Father Christmas.  Basically, I dobbed her in to my mum and my sister.  'Can you believe that Meg doesn't think Santa is real!' I exclaimed in mock horror.

They made all the right sounds of surprise and shock (thank you both!) and Meg sat there, still as a statue listening to them.

When they had finished she said, very calmly, 'Oh, yes, I forgot, actually, I do believe in Santa after all,' and I promise to high heaven, although nobody else claims to have seen it, as she said those words she looked me dead in the eye and winked.

I am being humoured by my four year old.


Merry Christmas everybody.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Christmas Wreath : Festive Face Off

I was asked by Country Baskets to take part in their Festive Face Off to make a Christmas decoration using some items we would be sent.  Amazingly they sent a huge hamper filled with lovely items which could be used to make a decoration.

I loved the large clear bauble we had been sent and was very keen to incorporate that into the design.  I toyed with the idea of making a giant snow globe but after covering every available surface in fake snow, it didn't quite work out the way I had hoped so that got scrapped.

I decided instead to use the large bauble as the focus and created a wreath to go outside it.  I placed some glittery leaves inside the bauble and then used some aluminium wire I had been sent to create the circle around the outside, I then wrapped some of the hessian material which had been lining the hamper around the wire before going over it with some sparkly beads.

Once I'd got the general shape of it I decorated it using green ribbon (although it looks bluer in my photos than it does in real life!) and some sparkly baubles and a beautiful pink butterfly because I couldn't resist adding one in.

Finally I finished it off with a wooden heart.

Here's the finished product!

It's probably not as amazing as some of the other entries, but I'm rather proud of the effort.  The winner of the Festive Face Off will win £250 of vouchers to use at Country Baskets plus a donation to the charity of their choice.

Fingers crossed for my sparkly Christmas wreath!

Disclaimer: We were sent a hamper of products to enable us to take part in this competition.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Kindness Elves: Day 1

Our Kindness Elves arrived today, Meg and Eli discovered them as they were clambering through our letter box this morning.

They came with a letter from Santa with instructions on how Meg and Eli should look after Glæde, Fred and Elska whilst they are with us and also letting them know why there were there.

Meg was a bit dubious and gave us the third degree on whether Santa had really brought the Elves and then dropped the bomb on us that she wasn't really sure Santa existed at all.  That kind of put a dampener on the whole experience!!

She relented later on in the day declaring that, actually, she had just been kidding and she did believe really.  Whoever heard of a 4 year old that didn't believe in the magic of Christmas!?!

We'd better keep on with the Elves just in case!